The 11 most stunning festivals in the world - United Hub

11 of the most stunning festivals in the world

By The Hub team

Your Coachella days may be behind you, but there are festivals around the world that don't involve flower crowns or short-short cut-offs. From revelries of color and tomatoes to celebrations of fire and ice, these 11 fetes are worthy of a trip for the photo opps alone.

Holi festival in India maodesign/Getty Images

Holi

Where: India

When: Early spring

The Hindu festival, known as the “Festival of Colors," celebrates the victory of good over evil with a free-for-all of rainbow splatter—participants cover each other with brightly pigmented powders as they sing and dance through the open streets.

La Tomatina in SpainPablo Blazquez Dominguez/Stringer/Getty Images

La Tomatina

Where: Buñol, Spain

When: The last Wednesday in August

What began by chance in 1945 has evolved into the most beloved annual one-ingredient food fight in the world. Set in the town square, a gigantic pile of tomatoes awaits excited participants ready to pummel each other for an hour or so until they wash off the remnants in a local pool. The good news? The citric acid actually leaves the streets extra clean.

Yi Peng Festival in Thailand Kai-Hirai/Getty Images

Yi Peng Festival

Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand

When: A full moon of the second month of the Thai lunar calendar

Sky lanterns are essentially small hot-air balloons constructed of rice paper. While used for centuries around Asia for different festivities (and also for military reasons), the most popular occasion is held in the ancient capital, where thousands of people launch their lanterns to bring good luck and tham bun (or Buddhist merit) and fill the night sky with light.

Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico City Jan Sochor/CON/Getty Images

Dia de Los Muertos

Where: Mexico City, Mexico

When: October 31 to November 2

While the “Day of the Dead" is widely celebrated across Mexico and even internationally, the holiday (during which families honor their ancestors and pray for their spirits in the afterlife) is best enjoyed in Mexico City. Exquisite altars covered in marigolds, painted skeleton faces and dancing Calavera Catrinas (“Dapper Skeletons") make their way in Technicolor down the four miles of the Paseo de la Reforma as hundreds of thousands cheer on the parade.

Mondial Air Ballons in France Castka/Getty Images

Mondial Air Ballons

Where: Chambley-Bussières, France

When: Every two years at the end of July

Beating out the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for the largest hot-air-balloon gathering in the world, the Mondial Air Ballons draws over 300,000 spectators over ten days to gawk at the 900-plus balloons in the sky.

Carnaval in Rio Global_Pics/Getty Images

Carnaval

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: Four days before Ash Wednesday

Brazil's most popular national holiday attracts tourists from all over the world (about half a million people!) to take part in the parties, music, drinking and, of course, the famous parade—aka “The Greatest Show on Earth"—as a major brouhaha before Lent. The event is so important, the city built the Sambadrome, a street-turned-permanent parade ground with bleachers, specifically to house it.

Snow & Ice Festival in China Photasia/Flickr

Snow & Ice Festival

Where: Harbin, China

When: January to February

If you thought that party luge at your friend's wedding was spectacular, you'll be absolutely floored by the scope of this winter festival's sculptures: They're basically frozen cities constructed of ice. The best part? At night, the buildings and monuments glow as multicolored lights shine through their translucent walls.

Wakakusa Yamayaki in Japan Wikimedia Commons

Wakakusa Yamayaki

Where: Nara, Japan

When: The fourth Saturday of January

While the origins of this tradition vary—no one's sure whether it was a boundary dispute between two temples or a way to prune wild boar pests—the dead grass of Mount Wakakusa is burned in an annual “mountain roast," which is followed by a fantastic fireworks display. The resulting firelight leaves bystanders with a spectacular, one-of-a-kind light show.

Carnevale di Venezia in Italy extravagantni/Getty Images

Carnevale di Venezia

Where: Venice, Italy

When: 40 days before Easter

Similar to Carnaval in Rio, this pre-Lent celebration is world famous for its grandeur—especially the elaborate costumes. The artisan-made masks even have names, like the bauta, a simple stark white or gilded one; the Colombina, a half-mask decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers and held up with a baton; the Medico della peste, aka the plague mask; the volto, the classic Venetian mask usually with a white base and gilded details; and so many more.

Up Helly Aa Fire Festival in Scotland Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

Where: Lerwick, Scotland

When: The last Tuesday in January

The torch-lit, half-mile procession and burning of a Viking longship has been an annual Shetland tradition to mark the end of the Yule season since the 1880s. While a thousand or so male participants dress up and take part in the procession, only the head of the festival, the Guizer Jarl, and his squad can don Viking garb. As for women and children, it's viewing with the 5,000 onlookers from the sidelines (or now even streaming online).

Mardi Gras in New Orleans Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Mardi Gras

Where: New Orleans

When: The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday

Another let's-party-before-Lent celebration, this famous Louisiana fete has the masks of Venice's Carnevale, the party vibes of Rio's Carnaval and the beads you don't want to ask your friend how she got. With a major parade every day of the two-week celebration, there's really no party like a Bourbon Street party.


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Marvelous sites to local hideaways: the expert’s guide to Toronto

By Nick Harper

Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.

Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.

Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.

What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.

However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…

City Hall, Toronto City Hall, Toronto

The checklist sites

No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.

The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.

Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.

Ripleys Aquarium Ripleys Aquarium

Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.

In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.

Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Gallery of Ontario

Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.

Casa Loma Casa Loma

Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.

St. Lawrence Market St. Lawrence Market

Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States[9] . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.

Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.

The bucket list

You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.

Explore like a local

Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.

The essentials

When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.

Toronto skyline view Toronto skyline view

Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.

Toronto Blue Jay stadium Toronto Blue Jay stadium

Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.

Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.

For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).

The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.

How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.

How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.

United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.


Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives

Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

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